Coloured Men's Institute


13-14 Tidal Basin Road
London, E16 1PH
United Kingdom
Date began: 
01 Jan 1926
Precise date began unknown: 
Date ended: 
01 Jan 1953
Precise date ended unknown: 

The Coloured Men’s Institute (CMI) was an organization founded by Kamal Athon Chunchie in response to the racism the black and Asian communities suffered in Canning Town, east London. It became a physical reality when Chunchie, on behalf of the Methodist Church, for which he had been working among the lascar community since 1921, acquired premises at 13-15 Tidal Basin Road, Victoria Docks, Canning Town, London. The space had formerly been a Chinese lodging house, with the cellars used as opium dens. After Chunchie refurbished it, the building boasted a meeting room that could accommodate around 100 people, where Chunchie conducted services on Sundays. During the week it was used as a meeting place with chairs, tables and a canteen that catered for the local community from nine in the morning to ten at night. The first floor housed a writing and newspaper room, a prayer room and a billiard room. Chunchie and his family occupied the top floor. The CMI was more of a community centre than a religious institution; around 200-300 people could pass through it in one week. Chunchie had designed and subsequently ran it as a place where the black and Asian communities could socialize in safety. In a way, it was a ‘separatist’ institution, a place of refuge from the prevalent white racism and discrimination in 1920s London.

The CMI had to vacate the premises in 1930 when the building was demolished in a road widening scheme. Chunchie tried for the next twenty years to rehouse the CMI at a different location. However his efforts did not come to fruition, partly because the Methodist Church withdrew its support. Subsequently most CMI functions were held at the Presbyterian Church Hall, Canning Town. The closure of its premises did not mean the the CMI ceased to exist. Chunchie continued its work and toured tirelessly across the UK to raise funds for the CMI, which he used to fund food, clothes, Christmas and New Year’s parties and summer day trips. The CMI was dependent on his leadership and guidance and did not survive after his death in 1953.

Key individuals: 
Secondary works: 

The Other Eastenders: Kamal Chunchie and West Ham's Early Black Community (London: Eastside Community Heritage, 2002)

Sadler, John, 'A Champion of London's Docklands', Contemporary Review (April 1991)

Visram, Rozina, Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (London: Pluto, 2002)

Visram Rozina, ‘Kamal A. Chunchie of the Coloured Men's Institute: The Man and the Legend’, Immigrants and Minorities 18.1 (March 1999), pp. 29-48

Archive source: 

Box 672, FBN 18, WMMS Home and General, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London